Guidelines of National Building Code to Ensure Fire Safety in Public buildings

Synopsis:  Effective regulations to manage fire risks in public buildings like Guidelines of National Building Code are available. However, lack of enforcement by states has led to fire disasters in India.

 Background:
  • Fire accident in Public building has been a recurrent event in India. For instance,
    • Fire accidents in hospitals at Bharuch in Gujarat, Virar (Mumbai), and Mumbra near Thane, have killed at least 37 people.
  • According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 330 people have died in commercial building fires in 2019.
  • When we include fire accidents in residential or dwelling buildings, the fatality rate gets very high at 6,329.
  • Some common causes are:
    1. Electrical failures
    2. failure of the state to ensure adherence to safety laws
    3. Lack of modern tech to ensure safety in public buildings.
What are the legal provisions available to ensure fire safety compliance in public buildings?
  • First, the National Building Code of India deals with Fire and life safety. The Bureau of Indian Standards has published it, as a recommendatory document. However, the Home Ministry asked States to incorporate it into their local building bylaws. It makes the recommendations a “mandatory requirement”.
  • Guidelines under NBC
    1. One, it provides specifications and guidelines for design and materials that reduce the threat of destructive fires. For example,
      • It specifies fire resistance materials to be used in exterior walls, interior bearing walls, floor, roof, fire check doors, fire enclosure exits, etc.,
    2. Two, The Code, classifies all the existing and new buildings by nature of use. For example; residential, educational, institutional, assembly (like cinemas and auditorial), Industrial, etc.,
    3. It recommends the location of buildings by type of use in specific zones. This is to ensure that industrial and hazardous structures do not coexist with residential, institutional, office, and business buildings.
    4. Three, the code prescribes incorporation of the technologies into buildings to alert in case of a fire and also to fight. Examples are, automatic fire detection and alarm system, automatic sprinklers and water sprays, fireman’s lift, fire barriers, etc.,
    5. Four, It provides exemptions for various buildings in case of practical difficulty. A local head, fire services may consider exemptions from the Code.
    6. Despite, the existence of fire safety rules in every state, the provisions of the Code are ignored in practice.
  • Second, Fire Safety Committees were constituted. They conduct periodical audits on fire installation, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning, and other electrical equipment in the Union government’s hospitals.
  • Third, Health Ministry has also imposed a third-party accreditation for fire safety. It has also formed strict guidelines for a mandatory fire response plan in every hospital.
  • Fourth, The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has also provided mandatory requirements for fire safety in public buildings, including hospitals.
    • Such as, maintaining minimum open safety space, protected exit mechanisms, dedicated staircases, and crucial drills to carry out evacuations.
  • Fifth, the Supreme Court has directed all States to carry out fire safety audits of dedicated COVID-19 hospitals.
Has there been adequate implementation of National Building Code by the estates?
Evidence shows that States lack the manpower to inspect and ensure compliance with safety codes, including NBC. For instance,
    • According to Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report (2010 to 2015), in Maharashtra, a joint physical inspection by an audit of 53 government buildings revealed that only fire extinguishers were installed in 11 of 53 buildings, and the remaining 42 buildings were not equipped with any of the fire-fighting installations.
  • Further, Tamil Nadu and Kerala though have broader regulations, still there has been no reference for compliance with the National Building code.
Way forward

Making heavy fire liability insurance compulsory for all public buildings, will ensure protection to occupants and visitors and bring about external inspection of safety.

Source: The Hindu

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